Scottsdale Chaparral’s players will try to treat this like any other game.
Same drills, same film routine, same Thursday walk-through.
But the gnawing in the pit of their stomachs just won’t go away.
The Firebirds held a 6-0 halftime lead over Scottsdale Saguaro in last year’s state semifinals but allowed 12 unanswered points and fell just short of a title-game appearance.
The game had as much to do with simply finding footing on a field soaked by rain and caked with mud, as it did with sheer talent.
But that didn’t make the loss any easier to swallow.
“A lot of them sat in the rain in late November and watched those guys walk off, headed to go play in Glendale,” Chaparral coach Charlie Ragle said. “I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t eat at them.”
The latest version of the Saguaro-Chaparral rivalry returns tonight, and it very well could be at its peak.
The top-ranked Sabercats have won 25 straight games and are three victories away from tying the 4A record held by — that’s right — Chaparral.
The last team to beat Saguaro was the Firebirds, two years ago.
No. 3 Chaparral is also undefeated this year and has been dominant ever since a scare in the second week of the season against Vail Cienega.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Saguaro coach John Sanders said.
Saguaro senior tight end Max Smith played a big role in the semifinal win, blocking a punt that Saguaro returned for a score for the game-winning points.
He said there’s no need to prep the younger guys, because everyone has a feel for this rivalry long before they hit varsity.
“They know about it,” Smith said.
Only a handful of players on each side are left from the 2006 showdown that Chaparral won. For most of the players on Saguaro, they simply don’t know what it’s like to lose a varsity game.
But of Chaparral’s three losses last year, two came to Saguaro by a combined nine points — a bitter pill to swallow.
“We see what we did last year, and we know that in both games we could have won,” Chaparral lineman Craig Roh said. “That just gives us more of a driving force this year. We know we can beat these guys.”
Game of the week: No. 3 Chaparral (6-0, 2-0) at No. 1 Saguaro (6-0, 3-0)
Time: 7 p.m.
Address: 6250 N. 82nd St., Scottsdale
Radio: 1060 AM